Rethinking sexual predators
Someone on my Facebook timeline posted a question recently where she asked if we women had ever dated grown men while we were underage. I initially answered that I didn’t. But then, as I thought about the question some more, a memory that I hadn’t thought much about in years came to me unbidden.
I had a homeroom teacher in high school who was a part owner of a Catskill resort and he offered me a job there one summer. I was 17 going on 18, so when I worked there, I had already graduated from high school. It was a health resort and spa. My job was basically to babysit the children of the resort guests during the day while their parents went to their spa treatments and the gym. I also babysat on some nights when the parents wanted to leave the resort, though looking back, I don’t know what they would have wanted to leave the place for as there wasn’t much to do in the surrounding town. Anyhoo, I was at the place maybe around two weeks when this grown man named Phil started sniffing around me. My memories of our encounters are actually fuzzy. He worked at the resort, but I can’t recall if he worked as a janitor or as a kitchen aide there. He lived in separate housing from us high school kids. I also don’t remember if he ever told me his exact age, but he was definitely no kid. I do remember that he worried about his car note and how he’d make a living after the summer, things that many 17 year olds don’t think about, so that was a huge clue that he was an adult. He also told me how pretty I was and how I was so mature, which I took as compliments. It is only recently that I learned that this behavior was actually grooming. Given that I was shy, awkward and away from home with no parental supervision, I was easy pickings for this creep. I went on a date with him one night. He took me to the movies in his car. I even remember the movie we saw-“The Living Daylights,” a James Bond movie. I’m not even into James Bond but it sounded like a good idea at the time. After the movie, it was a different story. Phil pressured me into having sex. I had the good sense to refuse. My memory is a blank at this point. The idea that I could have been raped is horrifying. I don’t know whether my brain is drawing this blank to protect me or whether nothing actually happened. I do know that I actually never saw him again. I have no idea what happened to him. He could have gotten fired or he might not have ever worked there. I’d talked to this guy for maybe several days.
That happened over 30 years ago but I never told a soul about this until now. My silence is compounded due to the fact that I am black and as such, I have been stereotyped for much of life as hypersexual. I remained silent because I knew that society, even other black people, would blame me for even speaking to Phil, let alone go on that date with him. I knew I’d be accused of being “fast” or “acting grown.” I was a relative loner in high school. I had low self esteem, was awkward and shy. How does that equate to me “acting grown” or being “fast?” The fact that our society places the onus on women and girls to shoulder responsibility for the actions of men is abhorrent. I could not have had any capacity to consent to any relationship with Phil. I went along with everything he suggested because I was raised to defer to adults and to not question authority. I would have believed that any trauma inflicted on me would have been deserved because all adults knew what was best. If women two or three times my age could be manipulated or abused by men, why would I have been expected to know any better at 17? I’d love to have that explained to me.
Despite recent discussions surrounding sexual predators, there are still people among us who remain their staunchest defenders. People such as those who say things like, “I don’t see nothing wrong with it,” when they want to co-sign predatory behavior. I’m going to illustrate to you just how toxic this mentality is. I’m 49 years old. I have no attraction to teenage children whatsoever. The mere thought of being attracted to them totally repulses me as I could be their mother. They simply don’t have the life experience to be able to relate to me. What could we possibly have in common? I’m worrying about credit card debt and paying rent while they worry about getting good grades and taking the SAT’s. We’re at two totally different stages of life where’s there’s no intersection. What could possibly be attractive about that? I don’t even want men in their 20’s because it’s the same issue. We wouldn’t have the same life experiences in common to be able to relate to each other. They’re concerned about getting an entry level job and moving away from their parents while I have to concern myself about having enough money to retire and looking after my aging parents. Where is the common ground in that? I have nephews in their 20’s. It would feel totally incestuous to date somebody their age. Really, Phil should have been bored within minutes of being around me, but he was compelled to get me to go on a date with him. A bunch of men my age have no qualms talking to teenage children. The fact that they feel no shame is related to toxic masculinity and how they don’t regard women or girls as equal human beings, but as objects that exist solely for their entertainment. They feel entitled to our time and our bodies. They don’t care about compatibility, only about controlling us.
Then there are those that say, “What’s the big deal? My grandma got married at 15. My grandpa was 25. That’s just how things were then.” Many families have instances of this in their family tree somewhere. If not grandparents, then great-grandparents, great-aunts, great-uncles, distant cousins, etc. Sorry to break it to you, but Grandpa, Great-Grandpa, Great Uncle Billy Joe and other male ancestors were predators. And your female ancestors who married while minors were victimized. Just sit with that for a minute. The fact that something was commonplace and not deemed to be wrong a century ago means nothing. Slavery was legal 175 years ago and most people didn’t think anything was wrong with it either. Some people felt the inhuman practice was damaging to the point that a civil war was fought over the issue and the law was struck down. It’s a similar thing with sexual predators. Girls in our grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s time were little more than property. Few professions were open to them. Marrying our grandfathers or great-grandfathers provided them with the only economic security they had. And if those men beat them, beat their children, molested their children, had affairs, had children outside the marriage, ad nauseum, our female ancestors were often stuck, because they often didn’t have the means to support themselves and their children and divorce was highly stigmatized in their day. Even though most states still have child marriage laws on the books, many people today view child marriage as unacceptable because women have more options now and an education beyond high school is imperative if we want our children to survive. In short, what was okay for your great-grandmother won’t fly with your daughter.
The issue with sexual predators is bigger than today’s R. Kelly, Woody Allen or other celebrity sexual predator. It’s about a society that basically tells women and girls that they don’t matter and that they don’t deserve to be protected. An entire cultural shift is needed. The onus on unpacking this sick behavior shouldn’t just be on women. Men need to unpack this as well because as long as they don’t, this behavior will continue to be normalized.